What social media can tell you about grocery shoppers

You can learn a lot by monitoring consumer conversations in social media. It can predict political elections, the Oscars and even the next reality show winner. If you are a CPG marketer, social media can also be a real-time predictor of your new product’s success.

When you think about what’s at stake during a product launch, real-time is really important. If a new product is not moving off the shelf, Walmart can delist it in as little as eight weeks. Yet most measurement companies take as long as twelve weeks to provide data on sales and customer preferences, so you are left flying blind during the most important period of your launch. 

There’s too much at stake to sit waiting for a report on the health of your product. You have to go out there and get it. Fortunately, much of what you need to know is being shared by consumers in social media.  If you look in the right places, here’s what social can tell you.

1. What People Think of Your Product: You may be surprised by what people are already sharing about your products. Consumers may be tweeting pictures of their kids enjoying your new beverage, posting on Facebook about your makeup before a night out, pinning photos on Pinterest of the meal they prepared with your food, or writing a detailed Amazon review on the pros and cons of your new home appliance. 

We may all comment about a brand occasionally, but there’s a certain breed of consumer who does this habitually. To them, sharing opinions on products is how they build their own individual brand. They want to share their enthusiasm and expertise to help others make better purchase decisions.  Want to see how one young fashionista does it? Check out Natalee Bee Dreaming’s videos  http://www.youtube.com/user/NatalieBeeDreaming?feature=watchon YouTube.

Monitoring these discussions in real-time is the best way to catch a problem early so you can fix it before it affects sales. Not long ago, we were generating word of mouth for a new home coffee machine that in some cases had a faulty power supply causing it to smoke and spark. In another case, consumers with a certain type of hair told us a new hair straightener was burning their hair and making it fall out. Neither of these issues came up in the testing prior to launch. Since the brands sought out consumer feedback in social media, they learned of the problems early and minimized the impact on sales.

Some things can’t be anticipated no matter how much you test.  One of our clients, a frozen food company, was surprised to see consumers complaining about the portion sizes. They investigated and learned the processing plant was literally cutting corners and shortchanging them. Watch the discussions around your brand closely to find issues while you still have time to do something about it.

2. How the in-store experience impacts sales: You simply can’t be everywhere your product is being sold.  You have to trust that it’s being stocked properly, promoted prominently, and sold the right way. If moms are your primary customers, let them be your eyes and ears. It’s not hard for them since, according to Nielsen, 54% of moms have smartphones, which over indexes for smartphone ownership.  Moms are some of the most socially-engaged consumers, and their phone is the primary connection to the web. This constant access to social networks means their photos, videos and spontaneous reactions to a shopping experience can be shared in detail as they happen.  

Monitoring purchases through loyalty card transaction with companies like dunnhumby (BzzAgent’s parent company) can tell you what type of shoppers are buying your merchandise.  One client was shocked to see their product significantly over index with quality-focused households. They knew they had a great product, but it was odd to see it over index so dramatically compared to their higher-priced competitors. After a little digging, we found that it was being stocked with organic products and not in the coffee aisle in a major supermarket chain. They didn’t realize the strength of their appeal to this segment and this insight opened the door to merchandising adjustments that dramatically grew sales.

3. The trends your audience cares about: Social can also tell you a lot about the direction of product and packaging trends. We ran a contest earlier this year called the Hypeworthies to celebrate the hottest new supermarket products of the past year. Consumers shared 70,000 social media votes for their favorite products and we learned some fascinating things about what people are looking for in grocery stores today.
We saw just how passionate consumers are about healthy eating. Conversations about skinny, low-fat, light, multigrain and diet showed up more than any other theme.
Apparently, even our pets are eating like they are training for a marathon.

Another popular theme was tropical fruit flavorings. Consumers have obviously moved on from superfruits like acai and pomegranate in favor of mango, coconut and banana flavors. Lastly, it was clear consumers want quality products in small packages. They raved about single-use packages that let them use exactly what they need without worrying about waste. 

Periodic analyst reports on your industry are also available in order to find out exactly what people are thinking right now in your product category. Although, if you have a new formula or packaging feature that nobody’s talking about, you might have to do some extra research and analysis.
 
The most important thing is to find your best customers and get them talking. Of course, none of this is possible if nobody’s saying anything. Some conversations are going to happen naturally, but there’s a lot you can do to activate dialogue, especially if you are introducing a new product and you don’t have a history of consumer reviews.  The best way to do that is with consumers who have a history of purchases in your category. They know your category better than anyone, and they’re most likely to write and share meaningful reviews and detailed endorsements.  This is where you are going to get the insights you need, which will also reach many potential customers who see these discussions shared online. 

Don’t think for a minute that all of your Facebook fans are the answer. This has nothing to do with “likes,” fans or followers.  A Facebook “like” is only a momentary engagement that often attracts people looking for freebies. The goal of social should be conversation in the form of detailed, meaningful reviews and analysis from people with a lot to say on the topic.    

Find the answer in loyalty card data from top retailers in your space. Match shoppers with a history of brand purchases with your target demographics profile and social influence scores to identify the ideal audience. Treat these people right.  Wow them with samples of your new product, coupons to share and education on what makes it unique.  Then make it easy for them to talk about it in person and online across all social networks. You might be surprised to see how much they say and what you can learn from it. Taking a proactive approach to social and analyzing the conversations and experiences shared in real-time will keep your eyes on the road ahead so you can shape where your products are going.

Brian Cavoli is director of marketing at BzzAgent, Inc., a division of the global shopper marketing firm dunnhumby.